Email Antics: Part I
by Rick Brenner
Nearly everyone I know complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. If you're looking around for some New Year's resolutions to make, here are some ideas, in this Part I of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
We waste a lot of time by choice. That's OK, but when we've chosen to waste it, complaining bitterly about what we ourselves are doing isn't OK. And that's what many of us are doing with email.
Here's Part I of a little catalog of painful things we do (or don't do) with email. See "Email Antics: Part II," Point Lookout for December 31, 2003, for more.
Wasting time is OK,
but complaining bitterly
about what we ourselves
are doing isn't
- Forget to attach the attachment
- Not so bad if you realize it, and then quickly send another copy with the attachment. This one is so common that an explanation for the second message is no longer necessary. Truly embarrassing, though, if you don't realize it and someone chooses to Reply All to tell you, especially if "All" is a large number of important people.
- Forget to remove their attachment from your reply
- Some email systems include the attachment in replies by default, which is annoying to people on PDAs or slow connections. Change your preferences.
- Reply to All when replying to one will do
- Especially when your reply is something like "thanks." Restrict your reply to the people who really care.
- Reply when you're angry
- I call this Typing Under the Influence (of adrenaline). You're sure to regret it, perhaps as soon as you click Send. Before you click Send, Breathe. See "Avoid Typing Under the Influence," Point Lookout for May 23, 2001.
- Write an outrageously angry reply, not intending to send it, and then send it accidentally
- You might think of the writing as a therapeutic exercise, but it's dangerous. Never type anything into your computer that you wouldn't want the entire world to see.
- Participate in an email feud with many CCs
- Even with no CCs, this is worse than a waste of time. You can't "win," and you're bound to look foolish (or worse) to some of the observers.
- Try to resolve in email any issue that has high emotional content
- Even a great writer has difficulty dealing with emotions in words. Deal with emotions in person or at least by telephone. See "Email Happens," Point Lookout for September 5, 2001.
- Get their address by replying to an old message that predates their change of address
- You'll think you sent them the message, but what if they no longer check email there? If you're lucky, you'll get a bounce report. If not, you both lose valuable time.
- Believe that your writing is so clear that nobody could possibly misinterpret it
- It's strange, but when somebody interprets our words in a way different from what we intended we call that a misinterpretation. Maybe what we sent was a misstatement.
- Believe that your first interpretation of someone else's words is the only possible interpretation
- If you can't think of three ways to interpret something, keep thinking. Or maybe start thinking.
If you do some of these, and you'd like to stop, tack this list on your wall. Highlight the ones you want to avoid, and review it once in a while to see how you're doing. Be patient, expect lapses, and celebrate your victories. Top Next Issue
Are you so buried in email that you don't even have time to delete your spam? Do you miss important messages? So many of the problems we have with email are actually within our power to solve, if we just realize the consequences of our own actions. Read 101 Tips for Writing and Managing Email to learn how to make peace with your inbox. Order Now!
And if you have organizational responsibility, you can help transform the culture to make more effective use of email. You can reduce volume while you make content more valuable. You can discourage email flame wars and that blizzard of useless if well-intended messages from colleagues and subordinates. Read Where There's Smoke There's Email to learn how to make email more productive at the organizational scale — and less dangerous. Order Now!
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